GREENSBORO, N.C. — Former North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory wants to be back in public office within two years, but he won't make a bid in this coming election.
He announced Thursday, on his Charlotte-based radio show, he will not run for governor again in 2020, though he strongly contemplated it. Instead, he said he is "seriously considering" running for retiring-republican U.S. Senator Richard Burr's seat in 2022.
That is a seat Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) announced he, too, is considering. Walker is not seeking re-election in his current sixth congressional district in 2020.
Of his own decision, McCrory explained, "I was talking about the cracks in our democracy occurring in Washington as we speak and in Raleigh as we speak. There is so much division right now politically in our city and in our state and our county that many of you have contacted me in various ways and requested that I re-enter public service. I think it's because we have a successful track record of accomplishment as both mayor and governor."
McCrory said he conducted surveys over the past several months and received feedback from thousands of citizens on whether he should run for governor, U.S. senator or stay out of politics.
"Despite very favorable surveys which show me having a very good chance of returning to the governor’s mansion, I’ve made a decision not to run for governor. First, I don’t want to cause further division within the Republican party when at this time, more than ever, we need to be united," McCrory said.
McCrory said he plans to support Lt. Governor Dan Forest, who already filed for the republican ticket for governor and will back U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), who is running for re-election.
The announcement came just one day before the North Carolina filing deadline for 2020 elections.
McCrory lost his bid for gubernatorial re-election in 2016 in a historic split-ticket outcome. North Carolina voters chose President Donald Trump but did not re-elect their incumbent republican governor.
In his first television interview since losing the election, the Charlotte mayor-turned 74th NC governor sat down exclusively with WFMY News 2's Meghann Mollerus this past spring.
Since the election, McCrory uncharacteristically has kept a low profile in public.
"The adjustment of moving out of the governor's office on New Year's Day very quickly with no fanfare and then being dropped off at my house in Charlotte with a handshake, a thank you and security leaving was a very tough adjustment for not only me and my wife, but also my extended family, because of the many threats we got over the four years," McCrory said.
McCrory admitted he misses some aspects of a job in the public eye.
"I miss the decision making, the leadership, the teamwork and making a viable difference. I think everyone wants to be relevant in their own way," he admitted.
For McCrory, staying relevant means staying tuned in. He hosts and co-produces the Pat McCrory Show with Bo Thompson, airing for two hours every weekday on WBT radio.
"We're at least providing some sort of educational service from a different perspective and at points, some humor, because sometimes politics are taken too seriously," he laughed.
When in front of the radio mic, he sounds like the same Pat McCrory who once led a great state -- an impassioned leader who hoped conviction would carry him through November 8, 2016.
"Were you confident going into election night?" asked Mollerus.
"We knew it was neck in neck. We thought we were going to win. I was with then-candidate Trump the night before in Raleigh, and I thought I would be winning, and he would be losing," he said.
In the end, Donald Trump took North Carolina with 49.84 percent to Clinton's 46.17 percent. But, McCrory lost to then-attorney general Roy Cooper by approximately 10,000 votes. A recount did not change the outcome, and weeks later, he conceded.
"If there's one reason you lost the election, what do you think that is?" Mollerus asked.
"I don't think there was one reason. I lost by maybe 10,000 votes out of 4.6 million. There were 10,000 reasons," he said.
Among them, he suspects, was Lon Cecil, the libertarian candidate who took 100,000 votes.
Another reason -- his former employer, Duke Energy, which critics accused McCrory of favoring even after the 2014 coal ash spill. They also jabbed him for opposing an oversight commission on Duke Energy.
"I didn't oppose an oversight commission. It was an oversight issue of the legislature having control over the executive branch, which is against the constitution, and the Supreme Court agreed with me on a very strong majority," McCrory said.
And, voters could not forget the I-77 tollway, a 26-mile project connecting Mooresville to Charlotte. A decade ago, it had bipartisan support before contractor problems and resident resistance.
New I-77 pricing shows after the first six months, it will cost a commuter nearly $10 one way during rush hour.
"Do you see a problem with that?" Mollerus asked.
"Yeah, I hate it, but that's what the election officials voted for. Regarding transportation, it all comes down to who pays for it. Do you pay for it through your corporate tax? Do you pay for it through your personal income tax? Do you pay for it through your gas tax? It comes down to a combination of all of the above." McCrory said.
But, perhaps the biggest cause of campaign controversy involved bathrooms. In February 2016, the Charlotte City Council expanded its non-discrimination ordinance. Any business providing a public service could not discriminate based on gender identity. Any violation would have carried a criminal misdemeanor.
Concerned it would allow men in women's restrooms, the republican-led legislature passed House Bill 2, which McCrory signed into law. In part, it required everyone to use the bathroom corresponding to the sex on their birth certificate.
The LGBT community cried foul, and North Carolina lost an estimated 3.7 billion in NCAA championships, a big business deal with PayPal and tourism as other states implemented travel bans.
"So, if you could go back, you would not change it," asked Mollerus.
"You know, one lesson I've learned is that you can't go back. But, listen, the fact of the matter is the whole issue was political. North Carolina was being used as a political pawn by liberal activist groups that targeted North Carolina to be the epicenter on an issue in which there was no problem to begin with," he said.
By March 2017, lawmakers and new-Governor Cooper repealed House Bill 2 in a compromise bill, HB 142.
"What's ironic is the same law is in place today, and it's one of the best-kept secrets," McCrory said.
Because, he notes, the repeal bill had a caveat -- cities could not pass their own non-discrimination ordinances until 2020.
"What do you think will happen to this in 2020?" asked Mollerus.
"It's gonna be interesting. I hope our nation and our state ensures there's no discrimination based on sexual orientation, but I also believe sexual identity should be based on what the doctors say," McCrory said.
Obviously, McCrory prefers to remember other points of his political tenure, like his on-the-ground response to Hurricane Matthew and the subsequent flooding, eliminating North Carolina's federal debt and much smaller projects, like the Charlotte light rail.
But, McCrory said the past is the past. He has been full steam ahead, keeping busy. He went back to his teaching roots with a student-led class at UNC-Chapel Hill.
He enjoys quality time with his wife Ann, basketball games with his godson, outings with former governors, golfing with friends and most of all, relaxing with his favorite dog at their favorite place, Lake James.
"So, I've got a good life. I don't miss being governor. I miss the job of governor," he said.
"Are you going to run for governor again, in 2020?" asked Mollerus.
"I don't know. I'm being totally truthful to you. I have not made that decision yet... There are some days I want to re-enter public office, but there are some days where I'm not getting threats, and my wife is happy, and I go why get back into that game?" he replied.
At the time, McCrory said if he did run again, it most likely would be for Governor in 2020 or U.S. Senate in 2022, as Senator Richard Burr has indicated he will not seek another term.
As for McCrory's legacy, he said, "You know, one thing I've learned in politics is if you want to be remembered, don't get into politics."